NEW DELHI, India – Pakistan’s prime minister announced his resignation and dissolved the Cabinet Saturday, on the eve of peace talks here between his country and its nuclear-armed rival, India.
Zafarullah Khan Jamali told reporters in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad that the nation’s military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, demanded his resignation Saturday morning.
Jamali’s departure had been widely expected. Many believe that Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup, was upset that his handpicked prime minister had been unable to stanch criticism from opposition parties over a government crackdown on militants.
In a two-step succession plan, Jamali will be replaced by Chaudry Hussain, leader of the pro-military Pakistan Muslim League party. After an interim period of 45 to 50 days, Hussain will hand over the premier’s post to outgoing Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Aziz is widely credited with halting Pakistan’s economic slide after Musharraf convinced him to leave his job as a Citibank executive in New York and join his government.
Jamali’s departure comes as Musharraf’s military regime, under pressure from the United States to aggressively target Islamic extremists, is facing heated criticism from political leaders. The pro-Islamic opposition party has protested an incursion by the Pakistani army into tribal areas where al Qaeda members reportedly were being sheltered.
Musharraf also has been challenged by Pakistan’s two previous civilian prime ministers, both of whom are barred from entering the country but who still enjoy support from political parties.
Analysts say the departure of Jamali could indicate that the Pakistani Muslim League is also growing restless. “This may mark the beginning of the crack in the system that was put together by Musharraf,” said Rifaat Hussain, head of the department of Strategic Studies at Qaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad.
Musharraf has vowed to surrender his post as head of the military by the end of the year, but he has recently indicated that he may not keep that promise. His term runs through 2007.
His decision to side with the United States in its war against Afghanistan, and later to initiate negotiations with archrival India, has made him a target for militants at home. Musharraf narrowly survived two assassination attempts in December and Pakistani officials are bracing for more attacks.